Chapter 5 of the unpublished novel Infinite Tenderness by local author & Rainshadow Journal Founding member Mark Clemens. The story is set in New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina is about to roar into town. A family searches for a lost son. The first three chapters are posted in Rainshadow Journal and the links to them are at the end of this chapter. Or you can find them listed on the front page of Rainshadow on the lower right.
Lights over Fountain
Monday, August 29, 2005
12:38 a.m./mountain time
Lights slid across the ceiling shape shifting as they went, trapezoid and oval flaring bright then dim and slipping on down the wall behind the dresser.
Dewey listened to the car hum past the house and fade along the street, engine grumbling in the night. She was in bed with the covers up to her chin against the chill, totally wide awake. Her niece Bettina gently breathed next to her, arm flung across her forehead as if she were in a faint. Above the curtains, Dewey counted three stars outside the window high up. She had looked up close to the window before climbing in bed and the sky had been ablaze—so many stars in Colorado’s heaven, more than you ever saw above New Orleans.
Bettina was Leola and Mack’s seven-year-old. She and Dewey were sleeping in her bed. Dewey had asked her if that was okay beforehand, laughing to herself when Bettina had to think in over. Here now, this, sleeping with a warm young person beside her in the dark, reminded Dewey of all the years Landon would come to bed with her until he became of the conviction he was too old.
A rapid yipping somewhere outside close and Dewey went still, wondering what. When it died away, she pushed Bettina out of the middle of the bed and slid herself in from the edge. She curled around Bettina’s slender body in the dark, skinny worm, The child still smelled of baby powder, though Dewey had seen it was some lotion she rubbed on her hands and face. Dewey gazed at the dim outline of that angel face and the thought hit her—what if she never slept in her own bed again, never looked out the tiny round window in her bathroom at the lights of Chalmette. But here she was, wrapped around her niece like a leaf, content the wind and rain could not reach here where she was warm and dry in the dark. Which brought her, as always, to Landon.
Last week in New Orleans had started off quiet enough. She had stirred in the pre-darkness of her Chalmette apartment, eyes closed, and reached out of her sheets for the clock radio. That’s when the thought hit her, Where was Landon? The answer came as quick, With Hershel. She fell back easy on her pillow then, world in order, pleased her son and his father had just left that morning for a week diving and fishing on the Gulf of Mexico.
Later that Monday, two hours into her workday, Dewey had paused over her first patient, the sounds of the Delta Dental Center flowing around her, free jazz on the speakers overhead, the ceiling fans’ breeze, people chatting slow in the surrounding cubicles. When she returned to her patient, Donnie Bateaux, her silver carver poised above his gaping mouth, she smiled. By that time, Landon and his father would be motoring in Hershel’s skiff over gray blue water to their diving spot.
She resumed attacking a pernicious stain on Donnie’s upper right canine. She’d known him since kindergarten, funny and crude. She’d actually looked up to him when she was a kid, even after he fell, slipping downhill, no job, living on the streets. She tried to get by that morning without the shots Donnie hated, He was good for a while, but it was like stillness before a storm. Suddenly he reared up under her, bucking like she’d stuck him with a cattle prod. “Swee’ Jee-SUS, Mid Dewey,” Donnie garbled, his lips writhing around her fingers. “Hah munch ongah?”
“Donnie, sit still or you know what.” She flexed her thumb and hooked fingers like she had a hypodermic. “Be good now. We gotta fix your sorry choppers.”
That had been the last day when everything was normal. Then Landon took Hershel’s VW and ran away again and they hadn’t found him since. Then the hurricane came sneaking through the week slow and stealthy till it was roaring right up on them and they had to git. Now the week was ending with Landon still gone and wandering. Dewey pictured swirling clouds out over the Gulf in the infinite night, saw the hurricane and its terrible eye stretching from New Orleans clear up to Fountain and all around, the ripping winds and slicing rain coming to swallow her home, her son, his father, swallow them all.
There was a sucking sound, like a sandal pulling out of the mud. Dewey looked down at Bettina who was smacking her lips. A week ago, she’d been in New Orleans; now she was in Fountain with sand and rock and mountains taller than the horizon. What if she’d never let Hershel take Landon diving last week? After everything they’d gone through that summer, letting Landon go hadn’t felt right. Hershel could be wild and reckless, but then, what happened wasn’t his fault. Landon wasn’t well, but he was sneaky quick. When it got quiet you let your guard down, then he was gone. Dewey knew he could disappear on her, already done it once. Maybe if she’d made Landon sleep with her. As if.
Another car and the lights slid into the room and along the ceiling. Dewey watched it slip down the wall and listened as the car passed by, glad for Bettina but alone, missing Landon.
—To be continued—